‘Booga­loo’ anti-gov­ern­ment move­ment rises in pan­demic

Orlando Sentinel - - Nation & World - By Michael Kun­zel­man

SIL­VER SPRING, Md. — They carry high-pow­ered ri­fles and wear tac­ti­cal gear, but their Hawai­ian shirts and leis are what stand out in the crowds that have formed at state cap­i­tal build­ings to protest COVID-19 lock­down or­ders. The sig­na­ture look for the “booga­loo” anti-gov­ern­ment move­ment is de­signed to get at­ten­tion.

The loose move­ment, which uses an ‘80s movie se­quel as a code word for a sec­ond civil war, is among the ex­trem­ists us­ing the armed protests against stay-at-home or­ders as a plat­form. Like other move­ments that once largely in­hab­ited cor­ners of the in­ter­net, it has seized on the so­cial un­rest and eco­nomic calamity caused by the pan­demic to pub­li­cize its vi­o­lent mes­sages.

In April, armed demon­stra­tors passed out “Lib­erty or Booga­loo” fliers at a state­house protest in Con­cord, New Hamp­shire. A leader of the Three Per­centers mili­tia move­ment who or­ga­nized a rally in Olympia, Washington, last month en­cour­aged rally par­tic­i­pants to wear Hawai­ian shirts, ac­cord­ing to the Anti-Defamation League. On Satur­day, a demon­stra­tion in Raleigh, North Carolina, pro­moted by a Face­book group called “Blue Igloo” — a deriva­tion of the term — led to a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion of a con­fronta­tion be­tween an armed protester and a cou­ple push­ing a stroller.

An­other anti-lock­down rally is planned for Thurs­day at the state Capi­tol in Lansing, Michi­gan, site of an an­gry protest last month that in­cluded armed mem­bers of the Michi­gan Lib­erty Mili­tia. Michi­gan Gov. Gretchen Whit­mer, a Demo­crat, has been the tar­get of vi­o­lent threats on Face­book fo­rums, in­clud­ing a pri­vate one called “The Rhett E. Boo­gie Group.”

One user said Whit­mer should be “guil­lotined” af­ter an­other sug­gested an­other gov­er­nor should be hanged from a noose, ac­cord­ing to a screen­shot cap­tured by the Tech Trans­parency Pro­ject re­search ini­tia­tive.

The coro­n­avirus pan­demic has be­come a cat­a­lyst for the “booga­loo” move­ment be­cause the stay-ath­ome or­ders have “put a stres­sor on a lot of very un­happy peo­ple,” said J.J. MacNab, a fel­low at George Washington Univer­sity’s Pro­gram on Ex­trem­ism. MacNab said their rhetoric goes be­yond dis­cus­sions about fight­ing virus re­stric­tions — which many pro­test­ers brand as “tyranny” — to talk­ing about killing FBI agents or po­lice of­fi­cers “to get the war go­ing.”

“They are far more graphic and far more spe­cific in their threats than I’ve seen in a long time,” she said.

The vi­o­lent rhetoric is dra­matic es­ca­la­tion for a on­line phe­nom­e­non with its roots in meme cul­ture and steeped in dark hu­mor. Its name comes from the panned 1984 movie “Breakin’ 2: Elec­tric Booga­loo,” which has be­come slang for any bad se­quel. An­other deriva­tion of “booga­loo” is “big luau” — hence the Hawai­ian garb.

Far-right gun

ac­tivists and mili­tia groups first em­braced the term be­fore white su­prem­a­cist groups adopted it last year. And while some “booga­loo” fol­low­ers main­tain they aren’t gen­uinely ad­vo­cat­ing for vi­o­lence, law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials say they have foiled bomb­ing and shoot­ing plots by peo­ple who have con­nec­tions to the move­ment or at least used its ter­mi­nol­ogy.

A 36-year-old Arkansas man whose Face­book page in­cluded “booga­loo” ref­er­ences was ar­rested on April 11 by po­lice in Texarkana, Texas, on a charge he threat­ened to am­bush and kill a po­lice of­fi­cer on a Face­book Live video.

“I feel like hunt­ing the hunters,” Aaron Swen­son wrote on Face­book un­der an alias, po­lice say.

An April 22 re­port by the Tech Trans­parency Pro­ject, which tracks tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, found 125 Face­book “booga­loo”-re­lated groups that had at­tracted tens of thou­sands of mem­bers in the pre­vi­ous 30 days.

“Some booga­loo sup­port­ers see the pub­lic health lock­downs and other di­rec­tives by states and cities across the coun­try as a vi­o­la­tion of their rights, and they’re aiming to har­ness pub­lic frus­tra­tion at such mea­sures to rally and at­tract new fol­low­ers to their cause,” the pro­ject’s re­port says.

MICHAEL DWYER/AP

Peo­ple, in­clud­ing some in the “booga­loo” move­ment, demon­strate May 2 in Con­cord, New Hamp­shire.

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